Guest Post: That Could Have Been My Child

A Guest Post By: Janet Mary Cobb

August 20, 2018

I remember November 24, 2014 like it was yesterday. The dreary weather in Chicago matched my spirits as I drove to work, wanting only to turn my car around, pick up my children from school, and head home.

I’d learned just hours earlier that twelve-year-old  Tamir Rice had been gunned down by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio while playing in a park. I couldn’t help but think, “that could’ve been my child.” My children were twelve, sixteen and seventeen; a daughter and two sons; African American. Tamir Rice was playing in a park. He wasn’t in a gang, didn’t live or hang in a ‘bad neighborhood,’ and was threatening no one. He was a child!

I pulled into the parking lot at the high school, turned off the car, and said to myself, “What the hell am I doing here?”

My mind twisted in knots trying to figure out what I could do to protect my children, but I had to walk into a building pretending that a tucked-in shirt and a good education would prepare these Black and Latinx students (and my children) for the dangers they would face on the street.
Continue reading “Guest Post: That Could Have Been My Child”

Error Cascade: How I Messed Up a Lesson in Laundry

By Angela Noel

August 6, 2018

A funny thing happened recently in my laundry room whilst teaching nine-year-old Jackson to wash and dry his clothes. It reminded me of the danger of cognitive biases and the error cascade they can create.  Continue reading “Error Cascade: How I Messed Up a Lesson in Laundry”

Practicing Courtesy: 30 Things Nice People Do

By Angela Noel

July 23, 2018

I’ve written several posts about encounters with people while traveling in the last year. One about trouble in the security line. Another about assumptions I made about a priest. I’ve also talked about things I’ve learned from drivers of taxis or Ubers. All of these posts highlighted, in one way or another, the importance of basic civility, courtesy, and kindness. This post pulls some of those ideas together and adds a few more. Continue reading “Practicing Courtesy: 30 Things Nice People Do”

Avoid Catastrophe, Make Fewer Assumptions

By Angela Noel

July 9, 2018

More than once I’ve been dead wrong about the reality of a situation for one simple reason: Instead of asking questions, I made assumptions. Though I detest this in myself, my sphere of influence is relatively small. Thus, I can do little harm. But, the same cannot be said for others in positions of power. Their failures to question assumptions can lead to disasters, as illustrated by Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War.

In the documentary, James Willbanks, an army strategist, said of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, “When McNamara wants to know what Ho Chi Minh is thinking he interviews himself.” I found Willbanks’ words chilling. Continue reading “Avoid Catastrophe, Make Fewer Assumptions”

Three Different Stories, One Common Thread

By Angela Noel

May 6, 2018

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’ve been criss-crossing the country lately. Not only have I been to five destinations in six months with work, but Paul and I also went to Nevada for a long weekend. Invariably, someone is driving me somewhere in each of these trips. And those someones have stories.

I learn things when I sit in the back of someone’s cab, car, or van. You might recall my experience with a cabbie last year when a simple question resulted in a truly unique conversation about his road to recovery from a gambling addiction and his path towards helping the homeless. These more recent stories are like that, but different. Continue reading “Three Different Stories, One Common Thread”

Between Birth and Death are Paperwork and Swearing

By Angela Noel

April 22, 2018

Last summer my husband and I took a bike ride along a trail near our house. I think about a lot of things when I’m riding a bike or running. On this particular occasion I was thinking about death. One thought in particular: Dying is the only obligation of the living.

Obviously, some things we cannot choose, like getting hit by a car or assaulted by a bad guy (or gal). But we can choose our response to the situation. We can decide what we do next.

I can also decide my actions. For example, I don’t have to obey laws or treat others with respect. I might go to jail and have no friends as a result–but still. I pretend I don’t have a choice as to whether or not I do certain things, like scrub the toilet or get an oil change, but I do. These decision could mean I pay a price, but they’re still my decisions.

I Swear

Admittedly, sometimes I complete some of these seemingly obligatory tasks only to avoid the painful or inconvenient impacts of NOT doing the thing.

For example, I recently filled out multiple forms with my name, birthday, social security number, address, previous medical history, shoe size, astrological sign etc. in preparation for my first appointment at a new dentist. The many swear words I used throughout the whole processes attested to how much I enjoyed it.

Paperwork, death
Full disclosure: it wasn’t THIS many forms, but this is how it FELT. Photo by Christa Dodoo on Unsplash

My son wanted me to read with him, but I wanted to get those damn forms done. He’d have to wait while I plowed through. As I glowered my way through the task, the possibility of my sudden death came to mind again. Continue reading “Between Birth and Death are Paperwork and Swearing”

The Hazards of Waterparks and the Lizard Brain

By Angela Noel

March 1, 2018

My lizard brain recently freaked out.

In his 2010 book, Linchpin, Seth Godin writes, “The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny. The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe. The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry.” I would not want to meet my lizard brain in a dark alley.

The limbic cortex, aka the lizard brain, is the part of our gray matter responsible for making it very very hard to be our best selves sometimes. It wants to keep us safe, help us survive, even help us win competitions at work or at play. But all it knows is how to react, not how to respond reasonably and in appropriate proportion to a given situation.

And this is where my freaking out begins.

Continue reading “The Hazards of Waterparks and the Lizard Brain”

Cognitive Bias Series: Our Search for Certainty

by Angela Noel

February 15, 2018

A guy in a ski mask and dolphin shorts ran by me as I walked my dog through our neighborhood park. While it wasn’t strange that a man would be wearing tight nylon shorts in the early 80s, a fellow wearing a full ski mask in Southern California in springtime with his penis flopping out against his thigh definitely stood out.

I hightailed it home and told my mom what had happened right away. I don’t remember the sequence of events exactly. But I do remember my dad grabbing a stocking cap, pulling it low over his eyes and heading out to the park to see if he could find the guy.

My dad acted on the instinct to protect his little girl. But in my nine-year-old brain, seeing my dad in what looked a little like the cap (without the mask) that the penis-waving fellow had worn, confusion reigned. Could the man I saw have been my father? Also, could the fact that I saw a man’s penis in the park make me pregnant?

Both of these questions plagued me, and though embarrassed, I asked my mom for the truth. “No, honey. Your dad was right here. He’d never do that. And no, you can’t get pregnant from seeing a man’s penis.”

Phew.

April and Angela
Here’s me and our dog, April, playing in the backyard. No ski masks in sight.

Just like when my son thought I was a gun-toting criminal, my own younger-self struggled with what I had perceived versus what I believed to be true. I struggled to discern fact from all the noise.

Now, as an adult, I have more information, more concrete ideas of what is and is not true. That sounds like a good thing. But in fact it could be an even bigger problem.  Because I think I know the answer already, maybe I won’t ask those critical questions. Worse, sometimes I don’t want to know the real answer.

Those elves, our cognitive biases, are at it again. Continue reading “Cognitive Bias Series: Our Search for Certainty”

Laughter: The Bug You Want to Catch

By Angela Noel

January 31, 2018

I recently began running up forty-five flights of stairs once or twice a week. It’s not all at once of course. It’s nine floors of stairs I run up and then walk down, five times. That’s over 1,000 stairs. When I reach the top I’m breathing like a banshee and wishing the way down was at least twice as long as the way up. It’s hard. The last thing I want to do is laugh while I’m torturing myself in this way. But it turns out, that’s exactly what I should be doing.

Laughter, a study at Georgia State found, improves health outcomes in older adults. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Jennifer Craft Morgan, points out,“The older adult angle is what we were really interested in, but there’s no reason to think that it wouldn’t have the same positive effects on younger people than it did on older people. Activity is a problem at all ages and laughter and exercise has benefits for all ages.” Laughter isn’t just a benefit when working out, it’s also a powerful social tool–like a rum and coke, but without the sugar and poor decision-making.  Continue reading “Laughter: The Bug You Want to Catch”

Cognitive Bias Series: Making a Stranger Into a Friend

By Angela Noel

January 18, 2018

I need help.

Few three-word sentences are so loaded with meaning. On the one hand, I could be asking for something simple, like directions or the time of day. On the other hand, maybe I need something more, like a kidney or a cashier’s check payable to a bank in Nigeria. Either way, I’m guessing you react to that phrase. I know I do.

Many of us have a complicated relationship with needing and granting “help.” This relationship, bound up in the shortcuts our brains use–our cognitive biases–can make all the difference in building meaningful, collaborative connections with others. In this post, as I promised in the introduction to this series, we’ll explore how we build relationships, contribute in our communities, and get work done. Believe it or not, this little brain elf is called: The Ben Franklin Effect. Continue reading “Cognitive Bias Series: Making a Stranger Into a Friend”